Former army general Petr Pavel has won the race to become the new president of the Czech Republic, defeating billionaire Andrej Babis in a run-off vote on Saturday.
Pavel, 61, secured more than 58 percent of the vote, the Czech Statistics Office said. Babis, a former prime minister and polarising figure in Czech politics, conceded defeat and offered congratulations to Pavel.
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A former chairman of NATO’s military committee, Pavel will replace controversial President Milos Zeman.
“I would like to thank those who voted for me and also those who did not but came to the polls, because they made it clear they honoured democracy and cared about this country,” Pavel said after the results showed his victory.
“I can see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have won in this election,” he added.
Pavel has shown his support for the country to provide military and humanitarian support for Ukraine amid the war with Russia. He has strongly supported the European Union and NATO and has viewed the Czech Republic’s future linked to their memberships.
Babis, 68, had been supported by Zeman, with whom he shares eurosceptic views and the tendency of using anti-migrant rhetoric.
It was the second major defeat for Babis in recent years, after his centrist ANO (YES) movement ended up in opposition after losing the 2021 general election.
The election went to a second round run-off between Pavel and Babis because none of the eight initial candidates received an absolute majority in the first round of voting two weeks ago.
Babis and his family have been targeted by death threats, while Pavel was the victim of a hoax claiming he was dead, as disinformation plagued the final campaign.
“Our community is somewhat hurt by the presidential campaign, by the multiple crises we have faced and are facing, but also by the political style that has recently prevailed here,” said Pavel.
“This has to change, and you have helped me to take the first step on the path towards this change.”
Zeman was the first president elected by popular vote. His second and final five-year term expires in March. Lawmakers elected the previous two presidents, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus.